Sunday, February 8, 2015

A gifting economy in real life

A gifting and sharing economy in real life

"Economy"...just say the word and a great number of people cringe. It's all about money, right? Buying and selling, investing to make more money, how to wisely spend or save money, strategies for earning more money, just money, money, money.

Yup. That about wraps it up. Our well-known "market economy" is just that: A way of doing business, a method of transaction wherein cash is exchanged for goods or services. Everything has a price, and an item or service is obtained by paying that price in cash to the entity offering the product or service. The result is that we spend our entire lives working to earn the cash necessary to purchase the things we need or want. Not a bad deal, really, because after all, isn't that the way it is supposed to be?

Is it? Let's look at that scenario for a moment. Some things really do have to be paid for with the almighty dollar. One's mortgage company will probably not accept three sides of beef as this month's payment, and utility companies are likely to frown upon an offer of freshly grown carrots. However, what about the things that CAN be obtained through simply giving to our neighbors as they/we have need? What if our neighbor was happy to receive a gently worn child's winter coat for their own child, free of charge? That frees up many almighty dollars that they can now use for something that requires cash. Or what if the single parent next door received as a gift a gallon of milk and a bag of fresh apples, again free of charge? Now her children will have a healthy snack and we all know how beneficial it is to a budget when one's children stay healthy!

But let's get away from things children need. Perhaps one has a gorgeous vegetable garden and a
bumper crop of cherry tomatoes. What a wonderful feeling it brings to gift out of the abundance of those tomatoes so that a neighbor can enjoy them! Perhaps that neighbor then offers to hold onto their compostable scraps to add to your garden next season...and the gifting circle goes around and around.

"But isn't that just bartering?" No, it really isn't because bartering still entails trading something of value for something else of comparable value. A gifting economy does neither. Rather, when someone in the community has a need, someone else in that community who is able to meet that need does so with a gift. That's the point: it is a gift, freely given with no expectation of a return of any kind from the recipient.

At this point, many people reading this will smile and nod, then say something like, "If it could only be that simple", followed by a heavy sigh of resignation.

The thing is, it CAN be that simple. It IS that simple. It has always BEEN that simple. Human beings really can shake off the economic shackles that bind us to a system where we are enslaved to cash. Sure, cash is necessary for certain things...but not EVERYthing. Cash is helpful in some situations...but not ALL situations. Meeting a need or fulfilling a desire of someone in our community does not have to entail the overt spending of a single dime. We CAN rise above our market economy and begin to learn how to share our belongings, our provisions, and our very selves with those around us.

Some will say, "But everything is purchased at one time or another, so even a gift to someone was bought at some previous time".  This is indeed true. However, say my neighbor has want of a coffee table, and I happen to have one I am not using. At some point in time I had purchased that coffee table. But if my neighbor likes the table, doesn't it make more sense to just give him the table so that they need not go and spend money on one? Now he can use his cash for something else that can only be handled with actual money, he has a new coffee table, and I have one less item taking up space in my garage.

Maybe it is something smaller and less dramatic. Let's say a neighbor is out of milk and her two children are already in bed sleeping for the night. They will have cereal, but no milk for breakfast. Now, someone nearby happens to have stocked up on milk and they have an extra bottle in their fridge, so they take that bottle of milk over to their neighbor...voila! The youngsters have cereal and milk for breakfast, their Mom can be free of worry about her children being hungry, and the neighbor who brought the milk has the joy of having helped out. Who knew that a simple bottle of milk could do so much good for so many people?

This is a gifting and sharing economy in action. It is about seeing a need or a want and fulfilling it just because we can, not because we gain something from it. It is about being willing to be vulnerable enough for our neighbors to get to know us, and putting in the effort to get to know them, too. It is about recognizing that we are all a part of one enormous human family, and as such we can reach out and connect with each other in more meaningful ways than we ever thought possible.

The technological age has made the world a smaller place, with light-speed communication and jet travel linking us with far away places like never before. But technology has also isolated us from each other by making it possible for us to communicate without ever making actual contact. We might converse with a colleague or friend for months or even years without ever actually meeting face to face. We have forgotten the warm feeling of answering the door and welcoming in a neighbor who just stopped by to borrow a cup of sugar. Our forebears knew this close-knit sense of community, they embraced the connections between fellow pioneers because their survival depended upon knowing and supporting each other. Through winter storms and lean years, they helped each other raise barns, raise food, and raise children...always leaning on one another when things were rough. In our more modern era, we lean on other things instead of our neighbors. We all have jobs and we assume we can support ourselves with no help from anyone else. We are so busy we might not even realize that our neighbor is ill, or that our co-worker is struggling to make ends meet. If we do realize someone next to us is in need, we usually shrug it off and assume that either they will pull themselves up by their bootstraps, or some government agency will offer to help them. Never mind that we might have exactly what they need, and might not even miss it if we were to offer it to them.

We live in a bubble.

But human beings were never meant to be isolated this way. We are built for interaction, for caring about those around us. If we listen, we all have a voice inside of us that screams to be connected with other people...we yearn on a deep level for community.

Gifting and sharing economies build that kind of community. When we begin to give, whether large items or small, we soon realize that our view of possessions and of money shifts...we realize that we really can hold loosely to certain things and share with those around us so that our own abundance blesses more people than just ourselves. The beauty is that others will realize this too, and the giving and sharing takes on a whole new energy of its own! We suddenly see our own abundance in a new light and we want to give and give and give.

Imagine a whole community thinking this way. Imagine a community of people who looked out for each other, who were willing to meet a need when it arose, who simply gave small things out of their ability to do so. Imagine a community like that...

...and imagine that it is YOUR community.

"Bah! That will never happen!", some might say. Oh, but it IS happening...right now!

You have heard the phrase, "Put your money where your mouth is", meaning that if you really mean something you will be willing to back it up with cold hard cash. The Community GATE takes it a step further by suggesting it is not just money that is valuable, but our possessions, our expertise, our very selves. Every one of us has something to offer, from the richest to the most meagerly supplied. There is no differentiating between the haves and the have nots, as typical charity does. This is not a system of the materially wealthy handing out to the less well-to-do, but rather a system wherein everyone has something to offer, and all are respected the same as part of the community.

A gifting and sharing economy thrives because of this balance where no one is above anyone else. Everyone has something to offer, whether a material item, a skill or craft, or simply their own energy to lend a hand toward a task that needs done. In this way, the Community GATE envelops members from every walk of life, every race and creed, every economic station. It is a beautiful and very blessed family, to be sure.

Still not sure about all this generosity, giving, and kindness? Just come and meet us, and have a look for yourself. We would love to have you show up at our door to ask for a cup of sugar.

And just leave the gate open behind you....someone else might just follow you in! All are welcome, and we hope to meet you soon!

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